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Emotions: Permanent Outlook or Temporary Attitude?

Life. It’s a ride. Specifically, it’s a roller coaster, and according to Grandma in the movie Parenthood (1989), a roller coaster is wonderful. She describes,

“You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”

By definition, a roller coaster has ups and downs and twists and turns. To “get more out of it,” like Grandma remarked, one needs to fully surrender to the experience. Living through the downs and through the ups, acknowledging that both exist is one of the keys to embracing life and making it a good one. Returning to Grandma’s description of life and roller coasters, both can make us frightened and scared and sick. Simultaneously, both can make us excited and thrilled and just plain make us like them.

What makes a life “good” and worth living is not the absence of the downs. It’s not a life that just goes around and around in a circle. What makes a life “good” is how one interprets it, the things on which he or she focuses.

Fans of college football more than likely watched the first-ever College National Football Playoff Championship on January 12, 2015. The game was a face-off between the two college teams who earned their spot in this championship: the University of Oregon Ducks and the Ohio State Buckeyes. In the 2014-15 collegiate football championship game, the Ohio State Buckeyes beat the Oregon Ducks 42-20 to win the title. Before the game, many experts predicted that the Ducks would win, and almost no one expected that the Ducks would lose by so much. At the end of the game, one announcer, in reference to the Ducks’ quarterback Marcus Mariota, that year’s Heisman Trophy winner, remarked, “What a disappointing end to his [college] career.”

“What a disappointing end to his career.” Really? That statement bothers me. I discussed it with my kids when we heard the announcer say that, and it came to bother them as well (or, more likely, my discussion of it grew bothersome to them!). To be sure, the players and fans of the UO Ducks were disappointed. That’s a normal reaction when a major game is lost, especially unexpectedly. We are all human, and our life experience is indeed a roller coaster. We have drops and downs and twists and turns. Games are lost. Things go wrong or don’t go as planned. Obstacles appear in our paths to trip us. And we feel negative things in the drops, including disappointment.

Especially in the roller coaster’s drops and downs, it is imperative to keep our perspective. There’s a difference between a temporary feeling of disappointment and the more long-term attitude of a “disappointing end to a career.” The latter is a pervasive attitude that can insidiously take over one’s interpretation of life. To be disappointed in an outcome, such as the loss of an important championship game, again, is a natural feeling. This type of feeling is an isolated type of feeling. It doesn’t permeate everything one has done, is doing, and will do in the future. It’s not a catastrophe. It feels fleeting, impermanent. This game was disappointing for the Ducks, yes, but there will be other games, and not all of them will be disappointing. Many of them will be victorious and celebratory.

The announcer’s remark that the game was a disappointing end to Marcus Mariota’s entire career takes on a whole new level of meaning. The implication is that Mariota’s college career is over, done, finito (it might very well be, as Mariota might enter the upcoming NFL Draft). But it is not an “end.” Nothing is over for this football player or his team. Life goes on, especially with the right outlook.

Further, there’s an insinuation with the announcer’s remark that this loss, this last game, will darkly color Mariota’s full college career. One event, no matter how disappointing in the moment, does not destroy one’s past accomplishments. Mariota earned the Heisman. It won’t be taken away because the Ducks lost the championship. Ditto the myriad accomplishments, achievements, and honors Mariota earned while at the University of Oregon. The loss did not cast a pall on his life or the lives of his teammates or the university’s football program. Their past, present, and future are all “pall-less.”

When we can adopt Grandma’s attitude and love that life is interesting because of all of the things it makes us feel, we are less likely to get stuck in the downs. We can feel them but know that we will make ourselves whoosh back up and twist to and fro. When faced with disappointments, we will see them for what they are, temporary emotions rather than permanent shadows cast over our entire lives. Being able to live the roller coaster is one of those things that contribute to a good life, a life worth living.

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